William Lambarde, an eminent lawyer and antiquary, the eldest son of John Lambarde, Alderman of London, by Juliana his wife, daughter of William Horne or Herne, of London, was born Oct. 10, 1536. Nothing is recorded concerning the early part of his education, until he entered upon the study of the law, and was admitted into the society of Lincolns Inn, 15th August 1556. Here he studied under Laurence Nowell (brother to the celebrated dean of St. Paul's), a man famous for his knowledge of antiquities and of the Saxon tongue. Lambarde profited much by his instructions, considering an acquaintance with the customs and jurisprudence of the Saxon times as very useful in his profession. The first fruits of his studies appeared in 1560 in a collection and translation of the Saxon Laws republished afterwards, with Bede's " Ecclesiastical History," in 1644, by Abraham Wheelock, who commends highly the elegance of Lambarde's interpretation.
In 1570 he appears to have resided at Westcombe, near Greenwich, of the manor of which he was possessed, and devoted a great share of his labours to the service of the county of Kent, but without giving up his profession of the law, or his connection with Lincolns Inn, of which society be was admitted a bencher in 1578. He had finished his Perambulation of Kent in 1570, which after being inspected by archbishop Parker, and the lord treasurer Burleigh, was published in 1576. From a letter of his to his friend Thomas Wotton, Esq., it appears that his design and researches extended much farther, and that he had already collected materials for a general account of Great Britain, of which this was but the specimen, and that he was prevented from proceeding in his plan by discovering that Camden was engaged in one similar. His materials, however, were published from the original manuscript in 1730 under the title of Dictionarium Angliae Topographicum et Historicum to which was prefixed a very fine likeness of him, engraved by Vertue. Camden, in praising his Perambulation, and acknowledging his obligations to it, calls the author 'eminent for learning and piety;' by the latter quality alluding probably to his founding an hospital for the poor at East-Greenwich, in Kent, said to have been the first founded by a protestant. The queen (Elizabeth) granted her letters patent, for the foundation of this hospital in 1574; and it was finished, and the poor admitted into it in October, 1576. It was to be called The college of the poor of Queen Elizabeth. An account of its endowment and present state' may be seen in Lysson's Environs.
In 1579 Lambarde was appointed a justice of peace for the county of Kent, an office which he not only performed with great diligence and integrity, but endeavoured to explain and illustrate for the benefit of other magistrates, in his SEirenarcha, or the Office of the Justices of Peace, in four books, 1581, reprinted eleven times, the last in 1619. Sir William Blackstone, in his Commentaries, recommends this work to the perusal of students. He published also, The Duties of Constables, 1582, and reprinted six times. His character and writings had now recommended him to the notice of some of the greatest and most powerful people of the realm. In 1589 he had a deputation from the lord treasurer for the composition for alienations for fines, an office erected in the 18th year of Queen Elizabeth. In 1592 he was appointed a master in chancery by Sir John Puckering, lord keeper; and in 1507 was appointed keeper of the rolls and house of the rolls, in Chancery-lane, by Sir Thomas Egerton, lord keeper. At length, in 1600, he was personally noticed by the queen, who received him very graciously, and appointed him keeper of the records in the Tower. In consequence of this appointment, he had another interview with her another work, entitled Archeion, or a Discourse upon the high courts of justice in England. It was not published until 1635, some years after his death, by his grandson, Thomas Lambarde. Of this work there are two editions of the same date, but Mr. Bridgman gives the preference to that with a preface signed T. L. which he thinks the most correct. Mr. Lambarde died 19 August 1601, at his house of Westcombe, and was buried in the parish church of Greenwich. A monument was placed over him, which, upon the rebuilding of that church, was removed to the parish church of Sevenoaks, in Kent, where is now the seat and burying-place of the family. He was thrice married, but left issue only by his second wife.
He left many manuscripts and was an accurate antiquary, and in all respects a man of learning and distinction.